Talk:Linguistic relativity/Archive 1

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old comments

I added some mention of John Lucy's work. It is, in my somewhat-specialist opinion, the most important work that has been done in the field. Not only does his first book provide the only systematic exposition of S-W's mature views that I am aware of AND a damning critique of all empirical research to date on the subject, his second book tries and succeeds in making empirically falsifiable hypotheses in the 'squishy middle ground' where S-W's views actually fell. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.

On a different tangent, I'm not sure how relevant all the stuff on constructed languages is, as they've never had so much as a single native speaker, let alone linguistic communities.--Adamzero

A less technical argument is that, for example, Platonists, anti-Platonists, Gnostics, and who know what else, could all explain themselves in Greek. So Greek doesn't tell you much about them.

Above, which ends the article, needs wikifying or removal.

It also reminds me of the idea that some things cannot be translated adequately, because there are ideas which can only be understood in the original language. The Koran is apparently an example of this, if not the chief one. --Ed Poor

This article seems quite anti-SWH, and examples in it are really bad. --Taw

I got here from feminism, so maybe the author was anti-feminist. I thought the article looked okay, so maybe I have unconscious anti-feminist bias. Feel free to neutralize it. --Ed Poor

I reread the article to see if it had changed recently, but it's pretty stable and pretty much as I remember it, which is quite good (if I must say so, having originated most of it). I simply don't see the anti-SW bias you do: it does--correctly--report that the hypothesis is generally discredited by modern linguists, mostly due to Chomsky's influence. That's simply a fact about modern linguistics. If anything, I think the article goes out of its way to be fair to pro-SW arguments by pointing out that weaker versions have been demonstrated.

Which examples, specifically, do you think are bad and how could they be improved? Don't just tell me they're bad--point me to better ones. If it's the pro-SW examples, then you'll have to settle for them, because there aren't any better ones--that's one reason why it's generally discredited. The anti-SW example is the simplest one to explain and lets the user use his personal experience to understand the idea; I think it's very good. In short, I don't find your criticism here specific enough to make any actual change. --LDC

Agreed, so moved the last paragraph here

In the area of Biblical Studies, the idea that ideas expressed in the Bible could be derived from study of the mechanics of the languages used (Greek and Hebrew) was (and is) influential, but was dismantled by James Barr (Semantics of Biblical Language, 1961; Biblical Words for Time, 1969). A less technical argument is that, for example, Platonists, anti-Platonists, Gnostics, and who know what else, could all explain themselves in Greek. So Greek doesn't tell you much about them.

(I didn't do this paragraph, but I didn't object to it so much that I wanted to delete it. Perhaps if its author can better explain its relevance...) --LDC

Is SWC transitive? for example, if I am to understand that language constrains your idea pool, then does that mean that you CANNOT have an idea that your language cannot express? Thats been demonstrated to be wrong, but that just proves the thoery doesn't go both ways, right? The way I read it, it said that language constrains the ideas you can have. So, to say that I've come up with ideas that I cannot express says nothing as to whether or not my language prevented me from not having certain ideas _at all_. additionally, since there is not a 1:1 relationship between phrases and ideas, a plausible explanation as to why we have ideas that are not immediately expressable is because other areas of the language allowed that field of thought to be generally conceptualized but not commonly linguistically expressed. The wikipedia is not for argument I understand, but I thought of this immediately, so am I wrong or do other people believe something like this?

--Alan D

I have strong reasons for believing what you said, but I cannot put them into words :-) --Ed Poor

Thanks, Alan, for the better critique. You're absolutely right that if someone like you (a generally educated English-speaking adult) finds it hard to understand something as written here or if it seems to you that something is left out, then it is quite reasonable to ask whether the article presents the subject well. Let me see if I can do better: The word "transitive" you use above means something that doesn't make any sense in context you use it, so I'm going to assume you meant something else. The rest of the question seems to me that you're simply confusing weak versions with stronger absolutes. The absolute version of SW, that language constrains (i.e., puts absolute limits on) thought is indeed saying that one literally cannot have a thought that isn't expressible in one's language. This is plainly false,

That's not necessarily true. While not a central argument for linguistic determinism that's currently ongoing (and there is plenty ongoing) Research into phonemic recognition has shown effects of linguistic determinsism. For instance Japanese speakers, growing up in Japan do have greater (and lasting) difficulties distinguishing the phoneme /l/ from /r/ (forgive if the notation is wrong, it's been a while). I say its not central because it could be argued this is an auditory thing rather than linguistic. But I think it proves a point. The fact that the Japanese language does not distinguish between these two phonemes has had a permanent effect on how the world is percieved and even more directly on the speaker's ability to perceive it. I'm sure there are similar examples in English. Melody

and while the example given may not be a rigorous refutation of that, it is intended as a demonstration that someone should be able to relate to. Weaker versions of SW say that one's native language influences thought to some degree, which is almost certainly true. The degree to which it is true is a matter of some debate: comtemporary linguists believe that while it is not zero, it is very close to zero. The only good examples of where language choice definitely influences thought so far discovered are the color-name study and the sign-language study. But those two small effects aren't really enough to counter the Chomskian contention that SW effects are practically inconsequential.

In short, the SWH is itself a vague idea in many forms, and so descriptions and discussions of it are going to couched in vague, qualititative terms. We're not talking about math or physics here, but it is reasonable science to put forth the hypothesis and test it as has been done. It's also a subject that's been talked about a lot, so it deserves clear treatment. --LDC

Thanks. I thought about it a while after I wrote that, and I pretty much came to the conclusion that SWH at the extremes of both ends is demonstrably false, and in between is too "squishy" to be meaningful. I still kind of believe that language has a large impact on at least the formation of ideas, but language is a product of collective cultural experience so that really makes the formation of ideas somewhat reliant on environment more than directly language. As for transitive, maybe I think I meant reflexive, unless I screwed that up too. I do still feel the argument I criticized is some sort of a fallacy though.

--Alan D

I see why it may be a fallacy: if one can't easily express a thought he has, it may just mean he's subconsciously thinking of another phrase that can precisely express that thought, just that he's not consciously thinking about that phrase. (I'm inclined to think though that this latter possibility is still false: In discussions of philosophy, when I try to get someone to explain why his pet ideology is true, he just stutters vague things like "You need to absorb and understand the whole philosophy before you know it's true", and -- the important part -- after several weeks or months of discussion it's still like that.) --

Thanks for clearing that up, it's what I would have said had not my thoughts been weak and constrained, although thoughts were indeed close to zero. All kidding aside, I think I (almost) understand the S-W hypothesis now, but what bearing does this have on feminism and using they or them to indicate the third person singular?

Will I think all teachers are men if you say, "A teacher should mind his business?" Will I suddenly forget what percentage of teachers are female. How about for nurses?

Can I say, "A nurse should make sure her clothing is tidy?" Or will you forget that men have started to become nurses also?

Ed Poor

I believe the (silly, IMHO) theory is that, because the masculine is the default, it sets up a culture that thinks of women as "not men," i.e., not the norm. This then leads to a lesser position of women because they are not the norm -- it works in the sense of white as a racial norm, too -- although that one I buy. Having said that, my own feelings may be influenced by the fact that I'm able to speak and/or understand several languages -- not the norm for Murrkins, and possibly giving me a different viewpoint. JHK, still a feminist, but a thinking one -- and Camille Paglia isn't, IMO
I'm not sure many people take it that far (i.e., saying that the cultural position of women is actually caused by the language). After all, women were horribly subjugated in cultures whose language doesn't have that problem (like classical Chinese before it was "modernized" by giving it the same male-default ambiguity as English!) But I think many people do believe (and perhaps reasonably) that the use of masculine pronouns does make it harder to make progress in overcoming those problems. For example, people who read books and articles that always refer to a doctor as "him" may subconsciously feel more "comfortable" with male doctors, and seek them out, to the financial detriment of female doctors, leading to fewer women seeking the profession, etc. It's probably not a major effect, but I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand because of the few positive SWH studies. --LDC

I'm sorry, Taw, but your edits were confusing and not even grammatical English, so I can't be sure what you're trying to say or whether it's relevant, but I don't think so. I reverted to the last version but cleaned it up a bit (including changing the Unicode references into named entities that more browsers should understand). If there's a point you don't think is being made, mention it here in the Talk page and maybe we can find a real linguist (as opposed to an amateur like me) to tell us if it should be included. --LDC

Taw, tell us more about these points:

"Almost every social group modifies its language by replacing neutral words with non-neutral ones with the same meaning (could somebody provide some English examples here: for Jehovah Witnesses, hackers etc.). It can be interpreted as trying to take benefit of Sapir-Whorf effect and enforcing all members of the group to think in the same way."

1. Why is this relevant to S-W hypoth? 2. Is this the best place for your observation? Sounds like a propaganda tactic to me, rather than a way of limiting thought. Ed Poor ____________

The article can't begin:

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is the controversial theory

It just can't.

Why not? The hypothesis is part of its name, theory is what it is. The map is not the territory, and the name of something is not a definition of what it is. Martin

Someone linked to Church's conjecture which I re-pointed at the Church-Turing thesis. But I am not clear on its relevance to SWH: C-T is concerned with theoretical possibility rather than practicality.

I also am a newbie and don't know what to do about the redundant page.

Fool 21:09 Mar 24, 2003 (UTC)

I moved SWh to SWH because

  • The article capitalizes the "H" in the first line.
  • SWH is not a description, but a name; Sapir and Whorf may have had other hypotheses, but "SWH" refers to a very specific one.

However, all but one of the links in the Wikipedia point to the uncapitalized version. Is there a good reason for this? Hopefully, they were just following the lead of the article, because I'll go and change them now... Paullusmagnus 23:17, 4 Sep 2003 (UTC)

The following doesn't sound like a NPOV:

So-called politically correct language stems from the belief that using (for example) sexist language tends to make one think in a sexist manner.

Does anyone know of a better way to rewrite this? I don't like the "so-called" and I don't think political correctness is about that belief at all, political correctness is about not being offensive when you otherwise would not intend to be. MShonle 09:22, 28 Jan 2004 (UTC)

That entire section is very POV. It associates attempts to reform sexist language with "constraints", Orwellian mind-control and "magical thinking". I'll be rewriting this soon. I'm aware it's a potentially controversial subject – if someone disagrees, let's discuss it here first to avoid an edit war. Fpahl 14:32, 23 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Well that sounds like a beneficial, and dangerous, thing to do. Good luck! Quadell (talk) (help)[[]] 14:59, Sep 23, 2004 (UTC)

John Grinder, a founder of NLP, was a linguistics professor who perhaps unconsciously combined the ideas of Chomsky with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. A seminal NLP insight came from a challenge he gave to his students: coin a neologism to describe a distinction for which you have no words. Student Robert Dilts coined a word for the way people stare into space when they are thinking, and for the different directions they stare. These new words enabled users to describe patterns in the ways people stare into space, which led directly to NLP—a fitting piece of support for the validity of NLP.

I don't understand why this is relevant to SWH, nor why this supports the validity of NLP. It doesn't seem relevant to SWH because the person who made up the new words had to have been able to think the thought without the words in order to make them up, and it doesn't seem to support NLP since the act of talking about the new words would naturally have directed the groups attention to the phenomenon being discussed. Would additional information clear this up, or should this paragraph instead be replaced with a shorter sentence noting NLP's historical connection to SWH and linking to NLP for further in-depth discussion? --Saucepan 17:58, 23 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Confusing text?

I found the following text to be confusing (italics are mine):

The Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) analysis of the problem is direct: Most people do some of their thinking by talking to themselves. Most people do some of their thinking by imagining images and other sensory phantasms. To the extent that people think by talking to themselves they are limited by their vocabulary and the structure of their language and their linguistic habits. (However it should also be noted that individuals have idiolects.)

The two sentences starting with "Most" are throwing me. Are they to imply that most individuals exhibit both behaviors, or that there are two groups of people, some who talk to themselves, and some who imagine images and other sensory phantasms? (Ultimately, it just reads like the original writer accidentally left in two versions of the same sentence.)

If it's the former (which is more likely), I suggest combining the two sentences thus: "Most people do some of their thinking by talking to themselves, and some of their thinking by imagining images and other sensory phantasms."

If it's the latter, I would suggest: "Some people do some of their thinking by talking to themselves, while others do some of their thinking by imagining images and other sensory phantasms."

Histrion 16:07, 8 Jun 2004 (UTC)


I'd work in the idea of "Affordance"- What kinds of statements does a language afford?

ie Blogs afford general status updates, spoken to the blue, whereas if you do that on a mailing list, that's generally considered wrong. People DO give status reports in mailing lists, and people DO give messages to specific individuals by way of blog. But the affordance doesn't point that way- blogs afford journals and general messages to the open, and mailing lists afford communications tied to subjects and targeted for the mailing list recipients list.

This is extremely similar to the way different programming languages afford particular uses, and the way that spoken languages afford particular expressions and paths of expression.

That's a great insight. Thanks. I hope someone finds the time to write that into an article somewhere (and doesn't disqualify it as "original research"!). Saucepan 17:36, 20 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Brain Imaging Evidence of language groups inhabiting separate 'mind-space'

Some while ago I had read information on differences, not between languages but between language groups; Basque - Spanish, Swedish - Finnish, Where completely different areas of the brain were shown to 'light up' or be used when engaging in language; speaking/reading, as the sole stimuli, when scanning brain activity. I think some mention of this would be pertinent to the article. Nagelfar 06:44, 20 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Why I moved this page

The name of this page, with a capital H, was at variance with perhaps several thousand Wikipedia pages titled Smith's law, Smith's theorem, Smith's axiom, etc., etc., with a lower-case letter. Michael Hardy 13:51, 1 Sep 2004 (UTC)

Too Much Opinion/ Interpretation

I found that this article does not read like something that should be in an encyclopedia - in particular the "strong and weak arguments" section appears to be the author's own ponderings on the subject, rather than an attempt to represent the theory, unadulterated. Too much deviation into discussion of points for and against - I'm sure if the hypothesis had been covered well enough, the reader could form their own opinion about it.

Need to reread your Kant

"Sensuous intuition" is not noumenal reality. The very fact that pure sensation constitutes intuitions indicates for Kant that for reality even to be perceived, it must be filtered through the pure intutions of space and time. Whatever "reality is in flux" means, if anything, intuition is not entirely in flux because it's already been converted into empirical intuition by the mind. The application of the categories is not the first instance of synthesis.

Second, the categories are universal to anything possessing reason. The application of space, time, and the categories to raw sense data does not make a subjective experience but an objective one, with patterns that can be recognized by anyone.

Someone needs to read his Kant.

Strong and weak comparison is helpful in theory, but confusing (to me) at the moment.

Could an expert please clarify whether the inability to communicate is considered as part of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or not.

I'm not an anthropologist, but to the layman it sounds as though the following sentence describes a failure to communicate rather than a failure to understand because of limitations in the ability to map concepts to words:

"Another study showed that deaf children of hearing parents may fail on some cognitive tasks unrelated to hearing, while deaf children of deaf parents succeed, due to the hearing parents being less fluent in sign language."

I mean, the above is interesting, but if deaf children of deaf parents succeed, due to the hearing parents being less fluent in sign language this appears to be a difficulty of the parents mapping ideas into language rather than a case in which language influences ideas. (Or at least, there is no way to prove which hypothesis explains the poor results of the children hearing parents). Does the inability of the surrounding society to communicate count as a good example of the principle of linguistic relativity?

For example, I will learn to speak German faster if I go and live in Zurich than if I attend night classes in London, is that an instance of the theory?

Thanks, Wragge 15:47, 2005 May 27 (UTC)

SWH in classical literature

The article begins: "The axiom that language has controlling effects upon thought can be traced to [an 1830s work]". However, the Analects, written some two and a half thousand years ago , contain a passage explaining why the first task of a new government should be to rectify the use of language: “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success". (ref.) Again, Thucydides in his description of civil war in Kerkyra in the History of the Peloponnesian War], written c. 411 BC, gives a classic description of how thought controls language, language controls thought: see Chapter 10.

I place this here rather than on the main page as there are others better qualified than I to edit the history of the hypothesis.


I find much of this page (at least after the first few sections) to be non-NPOV. In particular, most of the examples given to counter SWH do not prove it false, are styled in such a way as to imply that it is false, and might easily be contrastingly interpreted in support of SWH. MS

-The strong version of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a minority viewpoint in linguistics. Some would assert that it has been completely discredited. This article should not treat the hypothesis as if it is just another valid viewpoint any more than an article on evolution should treat creationism as a valid viewpoint. -- Temtem 02:43, Jun 13, 2005 (UTC)

I agree that there are major problems with/critiques of SWH, at least in its strong form. I am not arguing for or against the theory; I am simply observing that the article displays a clear and unnecessary bias against SWH (in both its strong and weak forms) in some of the examples that are used. For instance, "The fact that wine fanciers have a rich vocabulary to speak about the tastes they find in wines is not thought of as evidence that their minds work differently" is a line used to critique SWH. However, this is not a real argument against SWH and could even be used to support it. That is, the fact that wine fanciers have a rich vocabulary with which to describe wine might be said to support SWH insofar as it is indicative of their different and more complex understanding of the "reality" of wine. Furthermore, "Critics have argued that if the test subjects are unable to count numbers higher than three for some other reason (perhaps because they are nomadic hunter/gatherers with nothing to count and hence no need to practice doing so) then one should not expect their language to have words for such numbers" proves nothing either, as the practical reasons explaining why these people cannot count higher than three has no bearing on whether or not that linguistic "deficiency" constrains or otherwise determines their view of the world. These "examples" prove nothing but imply that SWH is altogether wrong and naive. Moreover, while they are attributed to critics, these critics remain nameless and would appear to act merely as fronts for the author's idle speculation. What I am saying is simply that the article could be reworked in parts in ways that eliminate this bias, while maintaining an understanding and explication of the highly valid criticisms brought against the theory (preferably in a section that is specifically dedicated to such criticisms, rather than merely being inherent in article itself). The strong version of SWH may be to a large degree discredited, but SWH--and similar, if more subtly and rigorously formulated theories-- are still highly influential (and at least in its weaker versions arguably, even demonstrably correct); as such, comparing it to the creationism debate against evolutionary theory comes across as disingenuous, and SWH deserves not to be so simply discarded as though it were mere crazy talk that only a few crackpots would ever even consider. --MS

David Bohm

Could the author of the article comment on the rheomode language proposed by David Bohm in "wholeness and the implicate order? I feel it deserves mentioning among the other authors who have imagined specific languages to modify thinking and perceptions. Many thanks Michel Ickx


I am a unique multilingual in that I have 3 different languages as my mothertongue, i.e. at native speaker level. Two latin based, (English and Dutch) and one altaic (Turkish). My entire life I have always experienced and have had trouble explaining to people that I believe that there is a distinct relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person thinks in and speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it. It is only today that I realise there is an actual official hypothesis that supports this life long view of mine. I can only meaningfully explain it as being able to, (sometimes unwillingly) change your personality and world view with the language environment you are thinking and conversing in. I realise that this is not much help, but I felt it had to be included somewhere in this article. I am Turkish.

Inuit words for "snow"

There's no doubt that the Inuit have several words for snow. Margaret Visser, in The Way We Are lists 35 snow-related terms. The question is how many Whorf listed (hand-me-down authors have been accused of inflating his original number) and what the implications for Inuit perception and thought.--Chris 04:41, 28 December 2005 (UTC)


English and Dutch are Germanic, not Romance. Nelson Ricardo 04:39, 29 November 2005 (UTC)

The reall problem with the "snow" business is that it is at best peripheral to Whorf's real concerns. --Adamzero

old comment

My contention with the information supplied about the Sapir-Whorf hyposthesis is that it not relativist. Sapir may have been somewhat relativist, but Whorf whose coming coincided with the advent of structural theory has been extremely closer to the Structural creed.

Content Additions?

Vico (who started this line of thought) and especially Herder should be discussed under the History section. Herder formulated elements of this in his writings on 'philosophy of language', which was a different discipline then versus now especially since it prefigured linguistics. Also it might be good to relate this to (parts of) Structuralism, since it broadly deals with the relationship between the synchronic (aka systematic and possibly syntatic) aspects of languages/sign systems and (cultural) understanding/ideology. (This is the case in Levi-Strauss and Barthes, at least.)

Political correctness

Wikipedia:Avoid weasel words First sentence of "Political correctness":

Some have attempted...

Very, very lame.


Here are some weasel words that are often found in Wikipedia articles:

  • "Some people say..."
  • "Research has shown..."
  • " widely regarded as..."
  • "It is believed that..."
  • "It has been suggested/noticed/decided..."
  • "Some people believe..."
  • "Many people say..."
  • "Critics/Experts say that..."
  • "Some historians argue..."
  • "Considered by many..."
  • "Accusations..."
  • "Apparently..."
  • "Allegedly..."
  • "Serious scholars/scientists/researchers..."
  • "Mainstream scholars/scientists/researchers..."
  • "The (mainstream) scientific community"

2 Fiction Sections

Why are there two sections, Fictional presence and Fictional examples? --WhiteDragon 19:16, 1 February 2006 (UTC)

"Wrongly Attributed"

"This hypothesis is wrongly attributed after the linguist ..." -- this is a strong statement to put in the thesis statement of the article without putting evidence and follow-up. Who should it be attributed to? Why, and how is it known to be *wrongly* attributed? I unfortuantely don't know the history and can't answer these questions -- can someone fill in the blanks? -- Metahacker 18:34, 9 March 2006 (UTC)

I have changed the wording. The problem was not so much the attribution, but the fact that it has come to be known as a hypothesis whereas for both Whorf and Sapir it was an axiom underlying their work. — mark 19:46, 12 March 2006 (UTC)

I'm new to wikipedia discussion, so I'm not sure if this is in the right place. In the article, SAE is described as Standard Average European; however, to the best of my knowledge, SAE actually stands for Standard American English. Am I wrong? Or should this be corrected? - Jacob

It can stand for both. Obviously, the reference to Standard American English is more common, except in discussions of Whorf.--Chris 19:09, 7 May 2006 (UTC)
Jacob has a point. If in every other context SAE = Standard American English, using the abbreviation causes unnecessary confusion. - Austin 19:36, 11 September 2006 (-5:00 GMT)

SAE is the term used at least in J. B. Carroll's "Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf" and in Ronald Wardhaugh's "An Introduction to Sociolingistics: 5th Edition" chapter 9 where he references Carroll, Sapir, and Whorf. Any confusion with the more common use of "SAE" is not the fault of the author(s) of this article. -rhanekam

Whorf used SAE to refer to "Standard Average European" -- his concept of the attributes of the "average" language in the Indo-European family of languages. [Liam]


I don't see why Pinker's quotation is included. First, he is not a major player in the debate, except in terms of popularizing it. Nobody (that I know of) is citing Pinker's work on this topic (because he hasn't done any). There are plenty of others on both sides that could be quoted (Paul Kay, Lila Gleitman, for example on the con side). Second, the Eskimo-words-for-snow question is really not relevant to the discussion. What people are interested in is systematic properties of the languages, things like how time and space are represented, how the grammar divides up objects in a coarse way. To the extent that we should care about numbers of words for a given concept, what should matter most is how many words individual people have, not how many a language has. How relevant would it be that English has thousands of words for species of insects, for example? -- MikeGasser (talk) 23:48, 10 March 2006 (UTC)

I agree and have removed it. — mark 19:44, 12 March 2006 (UTC)

Perhaps Pinker was mentioned precisely because he has popularized the "con side" of the concept -- and without any research to support his opinion. [Liam]

The implication that the number of words in a language holds is that these words are available to the speakers or the language community, though member of the language community has differing abilities as to their use and understanding. [Liam]

"Lingustic Relativity" redirect

I see that "linguistic relativity" redirects here ... should it not redirect to Principle of Linguistic Relativity?

Wine tasters' reality

I removed the section (under "linguistic determinism") that used wine lovers as evidence against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I did so because a) is is unattributed to anyone, let alone a known scholar in the field and thus constitutes (or is at least uncomfortably close to) original research; and b) it is an extremely poor argument against SW hypothesis. That is, the author claims that the fact that wine lovers have a sophisticated vocabulary to describe wine does not indicate that their minds work any different; however, without further substantiating the claim, it could be counterclaimed that that is precisely what their richer vocabulary indicates: a different and richer experience of wine structured by their richer language in that area. Of course, I've not added this counterclaim to the primary article (nor would I advise it) as it doesn't really do anything either; it simply engages in the he-said/she-said argumentation of the original statement without really adding anything of substance to the article or the broader academic/philosophical debate. If the original argument were at least attached to a prominent, scholarly critic, it might be relevent to the subsection in which it was placed, but as it was it had no place in an encyclopedia argument (thus, my removal of it).

Also, while I haven't touched it, I think that the counterclaim to the Peter Gordon argument in the same section should either be removed or rewritten as it likewise flirts with (if it isn't wholly) original research, and like the wine tasters critique is a poor and poorly written argument only making the article more clumsy and amateurish without really addressing the serious criticisms of SWH that have been made by scholars.

Very good edits and very good points. I couldn't agree more. — mark 07:23, 15 April 2006 (UTC)

Article name and redirects

I'm wondering why an en-dash is considered "standard" for a hyphenated term? Themadchopper 16:28, 17 April 2006 (UTC)

JA: The ndash is used to indicate that it's 2 people in the name, not one person with a hyphenated name. Jon Awbrey 05:46, 28 April 2006 (UTC)

But is it the most commonly used form? Ardric47 04:07, 16 May 2006 (UTC)
Wikipedia is inconsistent. The first topics I thought of that had two people's names hyphenated were Henderson-Hasselbalch equation, Taniyama–Shimura theorem, Brønsted-Lowry acid theory, and the Hardy-Weinberg principle. Of these, Taniyama-Shimura uses an en-dash, and the other three use hyphens. Is there a Wikipedia policy on this? --Leapfrog314 02:48, 21 May 2006 (UTC)

English-German humor article in the Guardian

An article in the Guardian on 23 May 2006, Lost in translation, discusses how the linguistic and/or semantic differences between English and German have led to entirely different forms of humor. Although I didn't see explicit mention of Sapir-Whorf, it strikes me as a good example. Dan 20:29, 23 May 2006 (UTC)

It's a rather odd article though. German sentence construction is if anything more flexible than in English (there is generally more freedom in the ordering of verbal arguments, etc.) And there's nothing about German grammar that prevents you from saying the German equivalent of "And then I got off the bus". (Perhaps "the bus" wouldn't be the last two words of the last sentence, but that would hardly spoil the joke.)
It's also wrong about compound nouns. Both English and German have compound nouns, it's just that in German writing you don't put spaces between the nouns in the compound. And can it really be true that there's less ambiguity in German? Seems a very dubious claim, based more on stereotypes of precise, efficient Germans than anything else.
Anyway, I don't object to it being linked to in the article, but I'm not sure if we should take it too seriously. Cadr 22:47, 23 May 2006 (UTC)
"and then I got off the bus" = "und dann verließ ich den Bus", so bus can actually be the last word. —Preceding unsigned comment added by ??? (talkcontribs)
It's very wrong indeed. Seems like a filler article relying on old stereotypes and a few annecdotes to "prove" them. The "German jokes" at the end also have exactly the same "uniquely British" structure as the bus joke. The bus joke also doesn't rely on the English structure in particular, but only on inconsistency between the sentences. "And then I got off the bus" isn't funny by itself, it's just a sentence which conflicts with the setting established in the first sentence (naked, covered in salad dressing, etc.).
Likewise, ambiguities are not unknown to Germans. Just because they don't exist for the same words doesn't mean there aren't any others. Also, not every ambiguity is funny enough to lend itself to jokes easily (e.g.: Schloss -- 'castle' or 'lock'. I can't think of any joke to make that one work as a punchline).
The differences between British and German humour are existant, but they don't boil down to the language barrier, but more to cultural differences. Also, lately German humour (and culture!) has been strongly Americanised. "Lately" being most of the 20th century.
The same humour doesn't necessarily work for different audiences, but that's true even within one language and culture. I know many Germans who love Monty Python (the original rather than the localisation/translation), yet none of them speaks English natively and arguably none of them doesn't "think" in German.
It's difficult to translate jokes directly, yes, but the same goes for poetry or anything else really. The same concepts can work in different languages, though. The only point the article successfully establishes is that most languages don't allow for literal translations from one to the other, simply because they rarely have identical words (if you're into media theory, you'll probably say that there isn't any "literal translation" of concepts between any two persons anyway, as their common language one represents some kind of vaguely common denominator, which also explains why some jokes might not work with different audiences even if they "share" a language and various other contexts).
While the S-W hypothesis may be correct, I have the feeling that it is often misinterpreted and misapplied. The whole language revisionism where "politically correct" terms are made up to replace "offensive" ones and then become offensive too as the old (negative) concepts are transferred to the new (positive) term (this is where the dysphemism/euphemism treadmill comes into play) seems like a good example for S-W gone wrong. The feminist language revisionists seem to be following the same path -- unsurprisingly, as that kind of sledgehammer technique still seems rather common practice in political fields.
If that, however, is all the hypothesis is about, then I can't see how any sane scientist could support as rational. But this is not about the axiom's validity anyway, and it wouldn't be the first time "rational" people remain inconsequent (there's enough personal reasons to be inconsequent). — Ashmodai (talk · contribs) 00:11, 15 September 2006 (UTC)


From what I heard from my anthro professor this theory was widely accepted until the 1960s+ but then it began to decline since it was found that their view that Hopis use passive verbs instead of active wasn't even true, let alone the implications that it made them more communal and less individualistic. This article is very light on criticism which... seems odd since I was led to believe this hypothesis and its linear causation has been mostly discounted. Honestly, I don't know and I'm repeating the words of a professor but I figure it is worth bringing up. (Although, such a monocausal relationship doesn't seem to make too much sense although this article distances the hypothesis from sounding monocausal). gren グレン 22:27, 9 June 2006 (UTC)

It is not considered discredited. It is considered to be a non-issue, because one part (the strong formulation) is obviously not true and the other (the weak formulation) obviously is true. Modern linguists work on actually procuring knowledge about the extent to which language inflæuences thought. I reccommend reading Gumperz and Levinsons "Rethingking Linguistic Relativity".

And it is definitely not mono-causal. Whorf thought in terms of interrelations, not monocausal determination. See Penny Lee´s book in the literature list, and read the Dan Alford link that I have added.--Grape1 14:52, 2 July 2007 (UTC)

Claim removed

I have removed the following claim from this page:

However, this criticism may be countered by the argument that in a social context, the inability to express a concept is just as much a constraint as an inability to formulate it. An idea which cannot be expressed cannot be promulgated; cannot be used to build a group consensus; and therefore cannot drive political action - consequently, it has as much practical social impact as if it had never been conceived at all. Therefore, while the strong hypothesis may not hold true for an individual, it remains valid for an entire society.

That may be true, but:

  1. The "may be countered". "Has been countered by [respectable scholar] [citation here]" would make it Wikipedia material. But, the fact is that it will never be used to counter the Sapir-Whorf axioms by anyone capable of sticking to the subject at hand, and neither indeed can it be used, because...
  2. This claim does not counter the claim at hand. The issue is whether individual thought-forms are constrained by language, not whether ideas can be transmitted when the language is insufficient to describe them (which is so obvious nobody would need to point it out).

And so smelleth it like unto OR/opinion to me, and irrelevant OR/opinion at that. -- Collard 17:42, 31 July 2006 (UTC)

Psychological experiments

I added some details about experiments investigating non-linguistic thought processes. These are things I am remembering from some psychology classes I took in college. Obviously we'll need to add some references; probably any introductory college psychology textbook would be able to confirm that there is a consensus on these topics, and it would hopefully have references to the actual experiments. It seems to me that this material should really be present in full detail in other articles (for example on the human visual system) and perhaps the amount here could be reduced once that happens. It would also be nice to find some scholarly references that support my claim that these facts are related to this particular debate. -- Beland 18:24, 7 August 2006 (UTC)


However, Pinker does not offer any evidence to substantiate his argument against the Whorfian viewpoint, whereas empirical studies in the fields of linguistics, psychology and anthropological linguistics indicate support.

I've read most or all of Pinker's books, as well as taken his introductory psychology class at MIT. He spends entire books (for example, Words and Rules) which pick apart the different stages of linguistic input and output processing, based on experiments done by his research group and others. Part of the point of doing that is that he is essentially saying, "No, it doesn't work like the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis supposes, and actually I can tell you in great detail how it does work." I'm not close by my bookshelf at the moment, but I think it would be worthwhile to take a second look at his work, and also to take into account his more recent books. -- Beland 18:24, 7 August 2006 (UTC)

Pinker's ouevre, and Chomsky's is systematically criticised in a book by a little known English academic, Geoffrey Sampson, called the 'Language Instinct' Debate. I'm not sure why Sampson's work hasn't attracted more profile, but it seems to be a compelling rebuttal of the nativist position. I'd recommend it to you. ElectricRay 22:40, 23 September 2006 (UTC)

It hasn't attracted much attention because the criticisms he puts forward in that book are not new, and most of them are wrong. Anyway, this has nothing to do with SWH. Cadr 19:02, 6 November 2006 (UTC)

Entire section of "experimental facts" without a single citation.

I added npov tags to this section as I don't know the code for claiming an article is factually inaccurate. I suspect the majority of these claims are actually untrue and if noone can provide a citation in a reasonable timeframe I suggest someone delete them. Also, the "empirical evidence" section is largely irrelevant, and the only relevant sections have no reference to the results of their trials whatsoever (which would indicate to me once again that there is no reasonable evidence for this hypothesis, but make your own conclusion). Hegemonic discourse

I am sorry but I think you are wrong. There is a large literature of experiments designed to test the hypothesiss and most have the same results, even the experiments conducted by anti-relativists It has sbeen shown that language does have some influence on performance on copgnitive non-linguistic tasksfor example colour recognition. (read what is the sapir whorf hypothesis by Kay and Kempton f.x.) The thing is that the strong versison of the hpyothesis is obviously wrong (language does not determine thought) but the weak version is obviously true (language does influence thought). In fact the only linguist I know of to publicly speak against the hypothesis in strong terms is Steven Pinker, who in turn is widely criticized (Read fx Geoffrey Sampsons "the language instinct debate"). Modern cognitive linguists are working on getting knowledge on how language influences thought. Below is some of the recent literature dealing with the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis in this light experimentally and that doesn't considered to be unreasonable:
  • Language Diversity and Thought: A Reformulation of the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis. By *John A. Lucy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. .
  • Grammatical Categories and Cognition: A Case Study of the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis. By *John A. Lucy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. Edited by John Gumperz. Cambridge University Press. 1996
  • Lakoff, George. Women fire and dangerous things.
  • Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Piraha: Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language, in Current Anthropology, August-October, 2005 (the piraha math experiments)

I think the article is well balanced and I have not contributed to it before to day. I will try to put in better references in the experimental part though.

Maunus 07:45, 10 August 2006 (UTC)

Actually, Steven Pinker doesn't challenge the weak Sapir Whorf hypothesis (he explicitly accepts that language can affect color judgements in The Language instinct, for example). Cadr 19:04, 6 November 2006 (UTC)

Looks significantly better to me now. Hegemonic discourse

For next time, a better tag would have been Template:Unreferenced or Template:Not verified (also see Wikipedia:Template messages/Maintenance to find other template messages). I've just removed the NPOV tag. Also, do folks prefer the parenthetical citations, or can we switch to the WP:Footnotes style? schi talk 20:09, 30 November 2006 (UTC)

Pirahã language

In the article is said that the Pirahã language has only three number words: "one", "two", and "many", however, in the Pirahã article there's another claim, saying that the language has only three words that roughly describe quantity, somewhat akin to "a few", "some", and "many.". I'll leave for the experts to solve this.

I'm not an expert but from what I've heard/seen the first is probably more correct. They will refer to a single item with "one", two items as "two", and any larger quantity as "three" or "many" or however you want to translate it. -Alan Trick 22:23, 16 November 2006 (UTC)
Here's a source. A New Scientist Article describes it as a 1, 2, and "many" distinction. -Alan Trick 22:33, 19 November 2006 (UTC)
Also discussed at Language Log, with several informative links from there. I'll try to incorporate into this article later. schi talk 20:03, 30 November 2006 (UTC)
Just a side note: There is a book by Terry Pratchett ("Man at arms") in which a troll can only count to three (So one,two,three, many). As Pratchett points out: You can just extend that by using one,two,three,many, many-one, many-two, many-three, many-many, many-many-one, ... :-) 15:53, 17 December 2006 (UTC)

Words, words, words

"Pinker argues from a contravening school of thought..." Someone really ought to look up the word 'contravening' in the dictionary. PiCo 03:24, 20 December 2006 (UTC)

Requesting Overview

Very interesting article, perhaps someone with knowledge of the topic would care to add/extend some kind of overview? Found it demanding to get a basic understanding of what the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is about, without resorting to read through the rather extensive history section. E.g. things like 'What's it about?', 'What's it used for if anything?', 'What's the basic concepts?' 16:21, 9 January 2007 (UTC)

I gave it a shot. What do you think? Superabo 00:35, 10 January 2007 (UTC)

Yes, that's good. Especially the original focus on habitual thought (see Lucy 1992a) needs to be emphasized more in this article, and your summary is a good start. — mark 10:57, 10 January 2007 (UTC)

Language personality theory

I just removed a lengthy paragraph on the 'language personality theory' by one Sergey Golubkov. That theory was presented in a very recent article in Social Behavior and Personality (Golubkov 2002) and has, as far as I can see, failed to generate any discussion related to the linguistic relativity hypothesis (and in fact any discussion in scholarly journals at all so far).

I believe the link to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis derives from the author's claim that "Additional perennial philosophical ground and linguistic conception of semantic primitives allow the theory to have the structure, dimensional taxonomy, & quality of universality.". This is a textbook example of WP:NPOV#Undue weight. Too much on the fringe to be included here. — mark 18:24, 16 January 2007 (UTC)

Not everyone thinks in language

Hey, I am autistic, and I do not think in language. When I use language, I have to translate my thoughts into it. I have learned language by recognizing patterns. However I can think way beyond the boundries of both the English and German language, however communicating this then becomes a problem (a problem I face daily). Considering not everyone needs language to think about complex concepts, I would argue that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis definitely does not apply to me. The limitations of language limit my communication with other people, but they never limited my thoughts.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or rather, the ideas stemming from these linguists, did not say that all thinking goes on in language. Whorf explicitly rejected that as behaviorist (naming Watson). You don´t have to be autistic to observe, through introspection, that much of our cognitive activity is not linguistic. But we do think when we speak, autistic or not. That is where thought and language come together.

What exactly is "not think in language"? Bear in mind language is more than words - some people can think with imagery but are still using syntax and grammar, whether it's the same grammar as a spoken language or not. Peter Grey 16:51, 2 July 2007 (UTC)

Overuse of Quotation Marks

Whoever wrote this article rampantly misuses quotation marks, using them to deliminate irony or uncertainty. 14:14, 1 February 2007 (UTC)~

move the longish quotes to Wikiquotes?

... just a thought. Those quotes take up space... Ling.Nut 03:02, 19 May 2007 (UTC)

My own example

This can't be added to the article, as it is original research, but I thought long and hard about qualia before I ever heard the term or knew any way to define it. After finding that article, it took me a while to figure out that that was what it was referring to, but I managed. — Daniel 04:46, 8 October 2007 (UTC)

"I" as obscenity

Two novels are listed that hypothesize societies where "I" is obscene. Such societies and languages are common in Southeast Asia. "I" am not only obscene, but also too lazy to look up the reference write now. Pawyilee 12:59, 21 October 2007 (UTC)

Plain Language

The first two paragraphs of this article are written with far too much jargon for a layperson to actually understand what the SWH is about. The article itself can go into specific and jargon-heavy details, but the introduction should be in simple enough language that a mechanical engineer (or even a sanitary engineer) can understand it.

This isn't a grant proposal, it's an encyclopedia article.

Translating the opening two paragraphs, I'd propose:

"The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (SWH) proposes that the way a person understands the world is based in part on the language they use to describe it. It is named after anthropologist Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf and was an assumption that they used in research.

According to the SWH, a language changes how its speakers think, and the same concept expressed in a different language may be interpreted differently. The idea challenges the possibility that reality can be described with language, because the words used will distort the description to match the prejudices of the language."

If nothing else, WP:Explain jargon applies. Somedumbyankee (talk) 19:25, 20 December 2007 (UTC)

"Wrongly Attributed"

"Among the most frequently cited examples of linguistic determinism is Whorf's study of the language of the Inuit people..." As far as I can tell, Whorf never studied Inuit, Yupik, or other Eskimo languages. This section either needs attribution, or it should be removed. Cnilep (talk) 21:26, 12 March 2008 (UTC)

Done. Whorf does make the following aside: "To an Eskimo, this all-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable; he would say that falling snow, slushy snow, and so on are sensuously and operationally different, different things to contend with; he uses different words for them and for other kinds of snow" ("Science and Linguistics," 1940). As far as I have found, though, he never studied Inuit. Cnilep (talk) 15:11, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
Looking at my edit again, I see I introduced another change. I changed "The notion that Arctic people have an unusually large number of words for snow has been shown to be false by linguist Geoffrey Pullum;" to read "Linguists generally agree that Arctic people do not have unusually large numbers of words for snow." Pullum (1991) was essentially a review of Martin (1986), and the argument has been made elsewhere. Thus, Pullum's is probably the most famous, but not the first, debunking of the idea. Cnilep (talk) 15:20, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

Slight lack of NPOV?

I think the article isn't really presenting a balanced explanation of the empirical evidence for and against the hypothesis, and may easily confuse a layman into believing there is much more evidence for the hypothesis than there actually is. I can't find a single place where the implications of the opposite point of view are explained: that many experts consider that, in this case, causality is reversed, in the sense that it is thought that influences language, not the other way around (which is what Pinker is implicitly referring to in The Language Instinct in the pages right after he discusses Whorf's particular examples of the Apache and Hopi languages, when he discusses the 'Eskimo hoax').

I also think there should be at least one citation to support this paragraph:

"In the late 1980s and early 1990s advances in cognitive psychology and anthropological linguistics renewed interest in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Today researchers disagree — often intensely — about how strongly language influences thought. However, this disagreement has sparked increasing interest in the issue and a great deal of innovative and important research."

Any names? Where is the intense controversy?

As if that weren't enough, the section on Empirical Support fails to provide any. The second paragraph, in particular, is appalling:

"Investigation into the recall of linguistic entities confirms that the brain stores associations between semantic concepts (like the idea of a house) and phonetic representation (the sounds that make up the word "house"). ... For example, the recall of the idea of a house can be sped up by exposure to the word "Home" because they share the same initial sound."

IMO, this has absolutely no bearing on the hypothesis. Such associations in the brain are obviously required in order to be able to use language at all, and neither prove nor disprove the linguistic relativity hypothesis. And how can anyone possibly give "house" and "home" as examples of "unrelated concepts"?

If anything, all that one could say is that there is no empirical evidence to disprove the weak version of the hypothesis, but this should be clearly stated.

Finally, I think care should be applied in separating the SWH from the conclusion that can be derived from it ("This idea challenges the possibility of representing the world perfectly with language"), because that conclusion can be arrived at without the need for the hypothesis.

Dbenito (talk) 21:28, 9 January 2008 (UTC)

What is meant with "noumenon"?

I quote: "Whorf might interpret that this usage affects the way English speakers conceive the noumenon "time."

Surely time cannot be "a noumenon", by any give definition, especially not by Kant, where time is a cateegory of mind. (talk) 18:00, 19 April 2008 (UTC)

Include section on philosophical relevance?

There are some reasonably important philosophy of language issues with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. For instance its implication of rendering true translation improbable, or the notion of what constitutes a language (given that a 'language' in this hypothesis seems to be capable of capturing exclusive meanings or phychological processes.) The only philisophical mentions of the hypothesis, for instance by A.P. Marinich, basically tear it to shreds logically, and for some fairly strong reasons. One of these is that accounts of how linguistic concepts (from Inuit languages etc) cannot be understood by other language speakers tend to contradict themselves. When it is said that inuits or whoever have words for 20 kinds of snow, and english has only has one, it nonetheless seems explicable that this is possible, when we should assume that the 'english speaker's mind' could not concieve of more than one kind of snow. We can easily make english descriptions of soft snow, hard snow and whatever to compensate for the lack of snow vocabulary. Anyway, I'd like to hear what people have to say on this, and whether there is a philosophy of language expert around, willing to make an entry. (talk) 01:55, 25 October 2008 (UTC)Robert

Whorf Quotations Seem to Contradict Each Other

I don't have much knowledge on the subject, but the following two sentences in the article seemed at odds with each other:

"...In doing so he opposed what he called a "natural logic" position which held, according to him, that "talking, or the use of language, is supposed only to 'express' what is essentially already formulated nonlinguistically".[4] On this account, he argued, "thought does not depend on grammar but on laws of logic or reason which are supposed to be the same for all observers of the universe". ..."

Perhaps I'm reading them wrong, but it seems that the quote in the second sentence expresses the view Whorf is said to oppose in the first sentence.

Edmundssteven (talk) 18:04, 20 January 2009 (UTC)

Where are the critics?

This article gives the impression that Sapir-Whorf is completely unchallenged. In fact, most of Whorf's grander extrapolations have been largely discredited. Whorf believed that grammar channeled thought. Because of that, the way someone thinks is altered significantly by their language. This is simply not true. It's been demonstrated that there is some merit to it in very tiny ways (for instance, people with grammatical gender tend to think of inanimate objects as speaking in the voice of their "gender").

Whorf's analysis into Hopi and Inuit was quite incorrect. Whorf believed that Hopi, for instance, did not distinguish time, and possession the way that we do. In fact, they do. Its just that the grammar is so different, that they don't mark it in such a way that would look familiar to a Westerner.

Chomsky and McWhorter are two well known linguists who have been highly critical of this notion.

supersoulty (talk) 17:26, 14 March 2009 (UTC)

Definitely. I recently read a reference about how the hypothesis is largely discredited now, and I came here to see details. The article needs the significant criticism. -Phoenixrod (talk) 06:22, 24 April 2009 (UTC)
"Largely discredited now" is an overstatement. It might be better to say "a bête noir among twentieth century theoretical linguists" (to paraphrase George Lakoff), but still appealed to by anthropologists and some contemporary linguists. Nonetheless, the large body of criticism out there should be summarized here. The Language Instinct has a very negative chapter. The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax is less dismissive by still quite critical. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things has perhaps the most balanced critique I know of, but I'm sure there are others. All three books are accessible to general audiences. Cnilep (talk) 16:18, 24 April 2009 (UTC)


Several closely related pages now redirect here. See old talk pages Talk:Linguistic relativity hypothesis, Talk:Principle of linguistic relativity, and Talk:Linguistic relativism. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Cnilep (talkcontribs) 18:29, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

Sorry, forgot to sign, but I see SineBot beat me to it.
The added material will undoubtedly need significant re-writing. I also added a couple of Fact tags even as I was adding it in. Cnilep (talk) 18:50, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

Rename Article?

I suggest that we rename the article to Linguistic relativity or Principle of Linguistic relativity. The first reason for this change is that it is as we know a misnomer. The second is that while the name Sapir-Whorf hypothesis may be better known to layfolk it is no longer referred to like that by those working with it - in newer studies it is almost invariably referred to as linguistoic relativity, examples are books like [1], [2], [3] and [4].·Maunus·ƛ· 16:50, 20 May 2009 (UTC)

Recently (in early April, IIRC) I merged three pages - Linguistic relativity hypothesis, Principle of linguistic relativity, and Linguistic relativism - into this one. The reason I chose Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as the merger target was simply because it had slightly better content than any of those three. I have no objection to renaming the page, but please ensure that all of the redirects are updated if you do.
On a more substantive note, I agree that the terms relativism and linguistic relativity seem to be more frequent in the linguistic literature than Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is. There is also the problem of defining what "the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" means, since neither Sapir nor Whorf used the term, and Lenneberg suggested two versions. Cnilep (talk) 01:45, 24 May 2009 (UTC)
Article now moved to Linguistic relativity, basis this discussion & request. Cheers, --cjllw ʘ TALK 00:42, 25 May 2009 (UTC)
I'll begin changing all the redirects tomorrow.·Maunus·ƛ· 00:57, 25 May 2009 (UTC)
'K. I see one of those industrious bots we have nowadays has already ploughed through fixing up the double-redirects - at least I think it got 'em all, hv not checked too hard tho'. --cjllw ʘ TALK 02:41, 25 May 2009 (UTC)

Inter-wiki links to other languages

A bot, User:Synthebot, has removed links to cs:Sapir-Whorfova hypotéza, cs:Jazykový relativismus, ja:サピア=ウォーフの仮説, and ja:言語的相対論. This seems to be an error. The Japanese pages are "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" and "Linguistic relativity" and they seem to cover some of the ground covered here, though each is smaller than this article, and this one now has more history than philosophy. I don't read Czech, but based on the cognate names, I assume those pages are similar. Would someone else like to double-check my impression before I roll back the edits? Cnilep (talk) 15:02, 18 June 2009 (UTC)

Malotki and the universalist-relativist duality

I'm a historian of science, not a linguist, but as I read Malotki's Hopi Time I see it as a strong critique of Whorf's assertion that "the Hopi language ... contain[s] no words, grammatical forms, constructions or expressions that refer directly to what we call 'time'" but not as advocating the universalist position. Although Malotki maintained that time is a universal -- "a fundamental experience conceptualized by every human mind" (p. 630) he also noted that "their sense of time, or the role that time plays in their lives and culture, does not correspond to ours" (p. 632). He concluded by leaving the big question of whether "the handling of time should vary greatly for speakers of different languages" to others to consider. A hint of where Malotki stands is his favorable comment on Ronald Langacker's presentation of a "continuous gradation of theoretical positions in regard to the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis" (p. 1).

Given the abundance of specifically Hopi temporal conceptions Malotki documents in his book, he seems to be more a soft relativist than a universalist. The article's dualistic structure doesn't allow place for such middle positions, and so wrongly (IMHO) places Malotki among the universalists.

At a minimum, the discussion of Malotki's important contributions should be moved from the section on the universalist period where it presently resides. Preferably, the article's dualistic structure should be reconsidered.

I'd appreciate some comments on these suggestions from people who are more widely read in linguistics.

--SteveMcCluskey (talk) 22:30, 22 June 2009 (UTC)

the section about the universalist period includes malotki for several reasons - He worked in the period where this was the dominant paradigm. He actively tried to disprove notions (strong) of linguistic just like the universalists did. And his results have been widely publicized by universalists as being strong proof for their viewpoints and against whorf's.·Maunus·ƛ· 22:00, 21 July 2009 (UTC)
There is another early extensive Malotki study, on Hopi space. Both books simply pulverize Whorf's ideas about Hopi, but are very measured in tone. In some more recent essays Malotki highlights Whorf's incompetence and he is angry that people simply ignore his findings and continue to treat Whorf's views on Hopi as sacred text. Malotki has a point there, but on the other hand Whorf's knowledge or ignorance of any single language need not mean anything for his basic philosophical ideas about language and thinking.--Radh (talk) 01:47, 26 August 2009 (UTC)

Just read the weblink (Moonhawk something). The idea to critizise Malotki when you only have seen a Video is good fun, but perhaps: not quiet a cigar? Will try to find his essays on Whorf.--Radh (talk) 16:54, 17 September 2009 (UTC)

2 German contributions

1.) An early statement of Helmut Gipper's on Sapir-Whorf in his:

  • Bausteine zur Sprachinhaltsforschung, Pädagogischer Verlag Schwann, Düsseldorf, 1963, esp. chapter 5 on pages 297-366.

Gipper later published (and I guess revised his ideas on Whorf somewhat):

  • Gibt es ein sprachliches Relativitätsprinzip?, Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 1972.

Gipper (1919-2005) was a pupil of Leo Weisgerber, the leading German linguist of his time and not only the Nazi WP tells you about, and the teacher of Malotki. I think, he was pretty much unique among German linguists of the time in his knowledge of (and tolerance for) anglo-american philosophy. He also is not dogmatic at all, which makes it a bit difficult to notice his own judgements. 2.: Rüdiger Vaas' essay (chapter 6, pp. 187-275, on Native American languages) in a pretty basic book on "Indianer";

  • Günther Stoll and Rüdiger Vaas: Spurensuche im Indianerland, Hirzel, Stuttgart, Leipzig, 2001.

But this essay is not simple-minded, excellent bibliography (p.271-275).--Radh (talk) 11:47, 28 December 2009 (UTC)

information entropy

Does anybody know of any work relating Sapir-Whorf to information entropy? What I'm looking at is the problem of translation and the fact that just like with rumor and urban legend, the farther you get from the original work the more the information decays. A translation is inaccurate because no two languages share the same concepts 100%, and you lose efficiency when you translate because no matter how many notes you put in, readers will miss some of them. Thanks. (talk) 12:58, 28 June 2009 (UTC)

Charges of 'POV'

Two sets of changes made on 21 July by User:Arxack are marked as responses to "serious NPOV problems". I take the fact that at least one regular editor of this page, User:Rjanag, made a subsequent edit without changing the substance of Arxack's edits to indicate some level of support for the changes. In contrast, I see the changes as introducing more problems than they solve. I removed two occurrences of the word "professional", reasoning that the consensus (above) to not call Whorf an amateur implies consensus not to contrast his work with that of "professionals" who criticize him. References to Pinker and Pullum have also been pared down in the recent past, though it now seems that we may need to re-visit that consensus. Also, some of the specific language added (e.g. that Whorf's description of Inuit "was wrong in every respect imaginable") seem unduly inflammatory and may betray a biased point of view. I have no idea what relation the (unsourced) reference to Jeff Buckley has to linguistic relativity. Cnilep (talk) 21:12, 21 July 2009 (UTC)

My subsequent edit doesn't mean I support or oppose the additions; to be honest, I didn't really look at them closely. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 21:28, 21 July 2009 (UTC)
Ok, I've looked a bit closer. Here is a comparison of revisions, and below are my thoughts about each change:
  1. Most of the changes in the first paragraph are cosmetic, shuffling words around and stuff; I don't have a preference either way. The addition of "professional" was unnecessary and has already been reverted. The only major thing is the addition of For example, it is impossible to determine how somebody perceives the world except through language.. This, I think, is unreferenced, scientifically questionable, and its relevance to the preceding and following sentences is unclear. I'd say remove it.
  2. The next paragraph, changed has later been shown to be a misrepresentation to was wrong in every respect imaginable. This is pretty unnecessary and over-the-top language, and probably POV...I'd say revert to the earlier wording.
  3. Next paragraph: added as a fire inspector [1]. I don't think "as a fire inspector" is necessary (it's just a minor detail), but the addition of a footnote is nice. Also added the sentence Steven Pinker in the Language Instinct ridiculed this example, claiming that this was a failing of human sight rather than language. ... needs a reference and needs to be toned down (for example, "criticized" rather than "ridiculed"), but other than that I think it's relevant and a good addition, if it's accurate (I haven't read Language Instinct myself).
  4. Addition of A reprint of this volume was among Jeff Buckley's few possessions when he died. : unnecessary trivia. Whorf's book is influential and well-known, so we don't need to grapple for notability with bits of trivia like this.
  5. Tweak to the sentence Today researchers no longer disagree over whether language influences thought, now the fundamental question is "What would it mean for language to influence thought?"[citation needed]. To be honest, I find this whole thing highly questionable, and think it needs to be removed; I don't think all the people in my department, for example, would agree with this. That being said, it is sort of an intro to the rest of the section, so something would need to be put up in this sentence's place. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 21:40, 21 July 2009 (UTC)
The last change was a change of meaning - todays researchers in linguistic relativity don't ask whether language influences thought but How it does. Even Pinker admits this in the stuff of thought. It is also sourceable to the introduction of books like "rethinking linguistic relativity" and many other books. With all due respect Rjanag might the fact that researchers in your department might not agree with the notion that the question now is "how language influences thought" have to do with them not actually researching linguistic relativity. Nearly the only linguists actively pursuing studies of linguistic relativity are those at the Max Planck institute of Psycholinguistics - and they certainly ascribe to this view.·Maunus·ƛ· 21:57, 21 July 2009 (UTC)
Re y our last question, it's certainly possible. Although I feel I have read some things lately that basically say "while the sapir-whorf hypothesis may still be possible, there has not yet been any reliable experimental evidence for or against it." In any case, I'm not an expert on this, but perhaps a more neutral wording would be something along the lines of "the focus of linguistic relativity studies today has shifted from asking whether language influences thought to how language might do so." That wording more or less expresses the same thing, but without being so overtly for or against either viewpoint. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 22:12, 21 July 2009 (UTC)
Well, start by reading "Evidence for linguistic relativity" edited by Dirven and Verspoor. Even steven Pinker says that language obviously influences language - he just doesn't find it to influence language in any "interesting way". Therefore i don't think a wording such as "how it might influence" is accurate it does the queestion is how and whether it is enough for anyone to care about it. Moving on: The user who made the POV accusations has stated that what he knows about linguistic relativity comes from "the language instinct". The "language instinct" is of course the book most hostile to linguistic relativity and does not represent the main stream view - and even Pinker has had to moderate his viewpoints in his most recent works - now stating that he rejects linguistic relativity mostly because he doesn't find it interesting. I think the viewpoints of Pinker and his criticisms of special points of Whorf's arguments are already represented. but if there is a consensus we can make them more salient - or even add a section dedicated to the different points of criticism against linguistic relativity. However gratuitously introducing derogatory language or inventing distinctions between Whorf and proffesional linguists is not the correct way to fix any neutrality issues.·Maunus·ƛ· 22:18, 21 July 2009 (UTC)

Hi, thanks for the concern. Yeah, that was late at night and some of it should be justly reverted. Before I edited it, the section read like it was written by a Whorf devotee with a degree in flashy academic prose, which I was trying to reduce. I am certainly biased against Whorf, but the point I should have made is that linguists don't consider his formulation of lingusitic relativity when they address the issue today. Arxack (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 01:43, 22 July 2009 (UTC).

I wrote it, I am glad you find my prose flashy. Whorf didn't make any formulation of the hypothesis - that is what the article is trying to state. He just provided some vague ideas and anecdotal evidence, his real importance was in being the first to noticing that it might be an observable phenomenon.·Maunus·ƛ· 02:25, 22 July 2009 (UTC)
Okay, let's say that. Arxack (talk) 03:27, 22 July 2009 (UTC)

newsweek article

Just came across this:

I had always been taught that this topic was considered bogus but who knows. Feel free to use the reference if it's good for anything. (talk) 07:28, 1 November 2009 (UTC)

dead link

Lucy, John A. (1997). "Linguistic Relativity". Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 291–312.

I have removed the URL from that item. Unfortunately, the Annual Review of Anthropology is available on-line only with a paid subscription, so the bibliographic item will have to stand without a URL. Cnilep (talk) 14:28, 25 November 2009 (UTC)

Was Whorf an "amateur"?

Prior to 5 May 2009, the page included this sentence:

This debunking has been made most famously by linguist Geoffrey Pullum; in an essay titled "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax", he attributes the origin of the story largely to amateur linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf and suggests that Whorf's observations in this respect are trivial.

On 5 May, an anonymous user removed the word amateur, with the explanation, "Whorf was prof of anthropolgy, not an amatur [sic]." I undid that edit, with the explanation, "Whorf actually was an amateur linguist, never employed as a professor." User:Maunus reverted my edit, with the explanation:

revert - noone says that you need tenure to be a linguist. whorf studied with Sapir and has made groundbreaking contibutions to linguistics- he was NOT an amateur and calling him so is wildly unfair [sic]

Although it's a minor detail, I've brought the issue here to seek consensus.

In terms of profession, B.L. Whorf was employed by the Hartford Fire Insurance Company. He was never employed as a professor of anthropology nor did he earn a living as a linguist (Carroll 1956). On the other hand, he was rather prolific as a linguist, producing respected work on Mayan hieroglyphs in addition to his better known but more controversial work on linguistic relativity. It might be noted that authors who are critical, even dismissive of Whorf and especially the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis are among those who point out his amateur status. Since the standard of Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth, however, it should also be pointed out that the a-word as it appears here is a paraphrase of work by Pullum that uses it.

So, was Whorf an amateur linguist? Does it matter? Cnilep (talk) 17:32, 6 May 2009 (UTC)

Being a linguist is not a proffesional term, there is no requirement in order to be called a linguist one must earn his living through practicing linguistics. Nor is there even a requirement that one should have studied linguistics - most early linguists studied languages or literature, since that was before a field of linguistics had emerged. Benjamin Lee Whorf did study linguistics, and his proffessor was one of the most influential lingustists in the history of the discipine: Edward Sapir. He carried out field work on several native american languages ncluding Nahuatl and Hopi. Furthermore he published in linguistics journals, practiced histoprical comparative linguistics, being among the first to make a comprehensive genetic classification of north american indian languages, even having sound laws in Uto-Aztecan named after him, and being among the most influential (if controversial) figures in cognitive and anthropolgical linguistics - there can be no question that he was a full fledged linguist on par with any practicing linguist (pace Sapir) in his days. It i also false to say that he neve lectured or did research at a univeristy: "In 1936, Whorf was appointed Honorary Research Fellow in Anthropology at Yale. In 1937, Yale awarded him the Sterling Fellowship. He was a Lecturer in Anthropology from 1937 through 1938, when he began having serious health problems." The main reason that he was never given tenure at a university was the fact that started practicng linguistics late in his life and died in his early forties. Labelling him as "amateur" because of earning a living as a chemical engineer can only be seen as a low blow to his integrity as a practicer of linguistics. The same argument would earn graduate students publishing in linguistics the title "amateur" linguist. And the same argument might exclude Franz Boas from the title of anthropologist sine he was a doctor of physics. Look at the number of sources for Whorfs status as a real linguist in the Benjamin Lee Whorf article and then ask yor self what does labelling Whorf as "amateur" contribute to the article on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Certainly not a neutral point of view on the topic. ·Maunus·ƛ· 19:01, 6 May 2009 (UTC)
The problem is the word "amateur". It no longer strictly carries the meaning of "unpaid" and often, especially in relation to scientific and academic issues, carries the meaning of "untrained" or "unqualified". While Whorf was "untenured" as a linguist, he was paid, and he most certainly was well-trained and qualified. Adding the word "amateur" to a scientist's description is highly POV in current English usage since "amateur biologist" covers most of the Creation Science crowd and is highly pejorative. Let's not put Whorf in a class with the purveyors of religious certitude about science. "Amateur" is POV in today's scientific vocabulary. (Taivo (talk) 20:25, 6 May 2009 (UTC))

The consensus seems to be that calling Whorf (or other scientists) "amateur" implies a lack of authority or skill; the adjective should therefore be avoided. Cnilep (talk) 20:59, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

Avoidance is just as unscientific as uncritically quoting some source. I think the solution to this 'amateur' problem is to acknowledge that Whorf is deemed an amateur by some, but to put in a well-chosen rebuttal. I propose to replace

Whorf's detractors such as Eric Lenneberg, etc.


Whorf has been criticized by many, often pointing to his 'amateur' status, insinuating that he was unqualified and could thereby be dismissed. However, his not having a degree in linguistics cannot be taken to mean that he was linguistically incompetent. Indeed, John Lucy writes "despite his 'amateur' status, Whorf's work in linguistics was and still is recognized as being of superb professional quality by linguists". Still, detractors such as Eric Lenneberg, etc.

(with proper footnote, of course) However, I feel that this replacement might disrupt the flow of the section. Any comments? Hpvpp (talk) 01:02, 10 March 2010 (UTC)

No comments so change implemented. Hpvpp (talk) 02:31, 24 March 2010 (UTC)

Why not, but superb professional quality is def. not how Hopi linguist Ekkart Malotki would put ist. Mlotki and Armin Geertz are much kinder towards the amateur etnologist and linguist Henry Voth.--Radh (talk) 07:25, 24 March 2010 (UTC)

trivia section pulled

Does the article at least mention that ideas like this SWH have been extensively explored in fiction? Debresser (talk) 12:28, 20 May 2009 (UTC)

It doesn't. But should. I'd especially recommend mention of The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance which, as stated in the lead to the article about it on Wikipedia, is all about an experiment involving SWH. Debresser (talk) 18:34, 23 May 2009 (UTC)

There could be a section on the way the hypothesis has inspired ventures in literature. Just not in the form of a list of trivia mentioning any an all occurrences of anything close to linguistic relativity in fiction. It would have to be a wellreferenced section tied up with the rest of the article's structure. ·Maunus·ƛ· 18:37, 23 May 2009 (UTC)
Oh, and I have also added a mention of the hypothesis influence on arts in the lead.·Maunus·ƛ· 18:40, 23 May 2009 (UTC)
I am glad that the "fictional presence" section at least exists on the talk page as I don't know if you can discuss a concept like Linguistic Relativity without looking at the vast body of literature that explored the concept. As a side note, a large portion of the field hypnotism is base on the implications of Linguistic Relativity (change their words, change their lives.) Malcolm b anderson (talk) 04:46, 29 November 2010 (UTC)malcolm_b_anderson
"Fictional presence" section was split off to Experimental languages. Hpvpp (talk) 05:41, 29 November 2010 (UTC)

Fictional presence

  • H.P. Lovecraft's short story "The Unnamable" (1923) explores the idea of whether or not someone can conceptualize something which cannot be described by any name.
  • Ayn Rand's novel Anthem (1938) presents a collectivist dystopia where the word "I" is banned, and any that use it are put to death.
  • In Jorge Luis Borges's Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1940) the author discovers references in books to a universe of idealistic individuals whose language lacks the concept of nouns and has other peculiarities that shapes their idealism. As the story progresses the books become more and better known to the world at large, their philosophy starts influencing the real world, and Earth becomes the ideal world described in the books.
  • George Orwell's classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) is a striking example of linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity in fiction, in which a language known as Newspeak has trimmed and supplanted Modern English. In this case, Orwell says that if humans cannot form the words to express the ideas underlying a revolution, then they cannot revolt. All of the theory of Newspeak is aimed at eliminating such words. For example, bad has been replaced by ungood, and the concept of freedom has been eliminated over time. According to Nineteen Eighty-Four's appendix on Newspeak, the result of the adoption of the language would be that "a heretical thought ... should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words."
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's novella Gulf (1949), the characters are taught an artificial language which allows them to think logically and concisely by removing the "false to fact" linguistic constructs of existing languages.
  • Jack Vance's science fiction novel The Languages of Pao (1958) centers on an experiment in modeling a civilization by tweaking its language. The masterbrain behind this experiment, Lord Palafor, says in chapter 9: "We must alter the mental framework of the Paonese people, which is most easily achieved by altering the language." His son, Finisterle, says in chapter 11 to a class of linguists in training: "every language impresses a certain world-view upon the mind."
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), Valentine Michael Smith is able to do things that most other humans can't do, and is unable to explain any of this in English. However, once others learn Martian, they start to be able to do these things; those concepts could only be explained in Martian.
  • In Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea series (beginning with "The Word of Unbinding," 1964, and A Wizard of Earthsea, 1968), an ancient language (known as the Old Speech) exists in which every object has one and only one true name. In the mythology of the world, this is the language in which the world was spoken into existence; it is still spoken by magicians and dragons. Aside from the special case of dragons, it is not possible to lie in this language.
  • A similar language system is used in Christopher Paolini's Inheritance trilogy (2002), in which a language exists known only as "the ancient language", spoken mainly by elves and magic-users. It is impossible to directly lie in this language (though it is possible to tell misleading truths, or in some cases use metaphor). While most characters in the novels believe that magic is only possible through speaking this language (and thus, can only cast spells which perform actions they can express), it is revealed in Eldest that the language is spoken only to keep spells under control, and magic can be used through thought, though this requires a great deal of focus to achieve the desired effect.
  • In Frank Herbert's science fiction novel Dune (1965) and its sequels, the Principle of Linguistic Relativity first appears when Lady Jessica (who has extensive linguistic training) encounters the Fremen, the native people of Dune. She is shocked by the "violence" of their language, as she believes their word choices and language structure reflect a culture of enormous violence. Similarly, earlier in the novel, her late husband, Duke Leto, muses on how the nature of Imperial society is betrayed by "the precise delineations for treacherous death" in its language, the use of highly specific terms to describe different methods for delivering poison.
  • Samuel R. Delany's novel Babel-17 (1966) is centered on a fictional language that denies its speakers independent thought, forcing them to think purely logical thoughts. This language is used as a weapon of war, because it is supposed to convert everyone who learns it to a traitor. In the novel, the language Babel-17 is likened to computer programming languages that do not allow errors or imprecise statements.
  • Robert Silverberg's novel A Time of Changes (1971) describes a society where the first person singular is considered an obscenity.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin's novel The Dispossessed (1974) takes place partly on a world with an anarcho-communist society whose constructed language contains little means for expressing possessive relationships, among other features.
  • D.D.Storm's novel Mud/Aurora (1981) describes a society divided in three classes speaking three different languages, designed to allow survival on a hostile, deserted world of a wrecked starship's crew and their descendants. The long-forgotten ship's linguist hid the true history of their world within the language spoken by the descendants of the commanding officers, the Sah.
  • Gene Wolfe's novel The Citadel of the Autarch (1983, part of The Book of the New Sun) presents a counter-example to the SWH: one of the characters (an Ascian) speaks entirely in slogans, but is able to express deep and subtle meanings via context. The narrator, Severian, after hearing the Ascian speak, remarks that "The Ascian seemed to speak only in sentences he had learned by rote, though until he used each for the first time we had never heard them . . . Second, I learned how difficult it is to eliminate the urge for expression. The people of Ascia were reduced to speaking only with their masters' voice; but they had made of it a new tongue, and I had no doubt, after hearing the Ascian, that by it he could express whatever thought he wished."[2]
  • Linguist Suzette Haden Elgin's science fiction novel Native Tongue (1984) describes a patriarchal society in which the overriding priority of the oppressed women is the secret development of a "feminist" language, Láadan, to aid them in throwing off their shackles. Elgin has written extensively in defense of the "weak" form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (which she prefers to call the "linguistic relativity hypothesis"), including a book titled The Language Imperative[3]
  • In Iain M. Banks's science fiction series, the Culture (1987 onward) has a shared language, Marain. The Culture believes (or perhaps has proved, or else actively made true) the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis that language affects society, and Marain was designed to exploit this effect. A related comment is made by the narrator in The Player of Games regarding gender-specific pronouns in English. Marain is also regarded as an aesthetically pleasing language.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok" (1991), the story hangs on the universal translator's inability to deal with "The Children of Tamar"'s metaphorical language.
  • Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash (1992) revolves around the notion that the Sumerian language was a programming language for the human brain. According to characters in the book, the goddess Asherah is the personification of a linguistic virus similar to a computer virus. The god Enki created a counter program which he calls a nam-shub that caused all of humanity to speak different tongues as a protection against Asherah.
  • In Ted Chiang's "The Story of Your Life," (1998) language directly determines thought. Learning the written language used by alien visitors to the Earth allows the person who learns the language to think in a different way, in which the past and future are illusions of conventional thought. This allows people who understand the language to see their entire life as a single unchangeable action, from past to future.

·Maunus·ƛ· 02:44, 14 May 2009 (UTC)

"Fictional presence" section split off to Experimental languages.
Hpvpp (talk) 01:59, 28 May 2010 (UTC)

"Hypothesis" actually constructed by Lenneberg et alia

The article currently reads (under the sub-heading "Eric Lenneberg"), "Since neither Sapir nor Whorf had ever stated the hypothesis in formal terms, he [Lenneberg] formulated one based on a condensation of the different expressions of the notion of linguistic relativity in their works."

This implies that Sapir and Whorf considered the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" as an hypothesis. In fact, though (as the article states) each assumed linguistic relativity as axiomatic and not as a hypothesis. (See, for example, Michael Silverstein or J.B. Carroll, or indeed the rest of the article for references.) I think this is an important point that needs to be archived here on the talk page: During the lifetimes of Sapir and Whorf, there was nothing called "the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis". I am therefore restoring something closer to the previous wording. Cnilep (talk) 16:06, 15 May 2009 (UTC)

See Stigler's law of eponymy. Pawyilee (talk) 12:19, 16 May 2009 (UTC)

The section originally attributed the two versions of the hypothesis to Brown 1976, but a closer reading of the paper does not support that. The section also incorrectly assumes that the experiment was done by Lenneberg 1953. In fact, that paper only previews the later publication of Brown & Lenneberg 1954. It is also the latter paper which firstly formulated the two versions of the hypothesis, although not as they are commonly known which is why I have kept the quote from Brown 1976. --Hpvpp (talk) 04:35, 10 March 2010 (UTC)

Cut down the fictional references

There are too many of them and many seem too trite (I do not feel immediately up to the task of judging relative worthiness myself).

I note in particular that the concept of a magical language with a "true" name allowing the control of e.g. a human or an element is far too widespread in both literature and historical societies for the inclusion of more than a small representative sample of works to be justifiable. (talk) 05:31, 17 December 2009 (UTC)

I've removed several items that were least relevant to this article. The fact is that science fiction writers find the concept and its implications fascinating, and continue to explore them at length. --Orange Mike | Talk 22:22, 17 December 2009 (UTC)
"Fictional presence" section split off to Experimental languages.
Hpvpp (talk) 02:01, 28 May 2010 (UTC)

External links to Boroditsky

There are now two external links to papers by Lera Boroditsky, and if memory serves there were more in the past. Perhaps a link to Professor Boroditsky's faculty page at Stanford (here) would be better. What do others think? Cnilep (talk) 21:46, 5 January 2010 (UTC)

Actually, this may be a better link. Cnilep (talk) 21:48, 5 January 2010 (UTC)

Origins in the lead

Taking from the featured article on the Philosophy of mind, I think the lead needs more of a broad, holistic denotation in approaching the subject.

One line in particular - "The idea originated in the German national romantic thought of the early 19th century where language was seen as the expression of the spirit of a nation, as put particularly by Wilhelm von Humboldt" - literally attributes the idea to von Humboldt. This is a very strong assertion to be made when in all likelihood the idea in and of itself could have first been realized outside of 19th century Germany.

If someone more familiar with the subject could address this, please and thank you. --Jay(Talk) 00:28, 28 February 2010 (UTC)

It could have and perhaps did so (Renaissance Humanism?; Vico?), but it is nevertheless usually attributed to Humboldt and Herder. But see: User: Mark Kupper's detailed entry above--Radh (talk) 09:01, 25 March 2010 (UTC)

Photo of Benjamin Lee Whorf

I have removed a photograph of Benjamin Lee Whorf from this article pending discussion here. I have two objections to the photograph's use.

  1. The file is a non-free image, copyrighted by Benjamin Lee Whorf Papers, Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library. It is currently used on the page Benjamin Lee Whorf under fair use. Although use here might be allowable under fair use, the same argument may not apply. Specifically, fair use on the page Benjamin Lee Whorf is asserted "To illustrate the subject in question". Whorf is not specifically the subject of this page.
  2. In a related vein, although Whorf is probably the scholar most associated with linguistic relativity, others (e.g. Lucy, Humbolt, Sapir, even Lenneberg) have made important contributions to understanding the concept. Therefore including a photo of Whorf and no other scholars might be seen as undue emphasis.

Instead, it may be desirable to include the {{Linguistics}} template on the page. Cnilep (talk) 21:51, 15 March 2010 (UTC)

+1 --LCE(LCE talk contribs) 10:38, 21 March 2010 (UTC)


The introduction is much too long and very confusing, especially for general readers. In addition, the article seems to provide proof that debunks the entire Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or at least the major examples that it's based on but doesn't say so in the introduction.

In addition, the article seems to provide support for claims that color terminology is more complex in some languages without pointing out that this contradicts what was said about the number of Inuit words for snow, for example. --Espoo (talk) 11:01, 10 April 2010 (UTC)

The article does not provide proof either validating or debunking the hypothesis of linguistic relativity because the topic is much too complex to be validated or debunked by any single study. As the article tries to describe there are currently two camps one that believes linguistic relativity is real and interesting and which is studying the nature of the interrelatedness between language and thought and one camp which does not believe that language exerts any significant influence on cognitive processes.There are studies supporting and contradicting both camps and the most well supported viewpoint presently is one that acknowledges some degree of linguistic influence on at least some kinds of cognitive processes. The lead describes the nature of the debate but does not claim any side of the argument to have been debunked, although to the main writer (myself) it does seem that currently the camp that is in favour of a nuanced version of linguistic relativity is in the lead and that both the anti-relativists and those in favour of the strict version of the hypothesis (linguistic determinism) are a bit behind in the research. Also the color terminology research has no bearing on the eskimo words for snow debate they are two independent issues - linking them would be synthesis. If you find the lead to be too long you are welcome to see if you can make it shorter while still conforming to WP:LEAD, but I would urge you to start by getting a good overview of the debate and the relevant literature as this is a debate where many still base their opinions on too few and too old sources. Whorf is no longer the main proponent of linguistic relativity and debunking his examples does not damage the hypothesis although some people (e.g. Pinker) seem to think so. ·Maunus·ƛ· 11:27, 10 April 2010 (UTC)
I'd like to ask other editors if there is a general feeling that cleanup is needed - in which case it would be helpful to make a specific list of how the article needs to be cleaned up, or whether most editors think a cleanup is not needed in which case we can remove the tag.·Maunus·ƛ· 07:51, 13 April 2010 (UTC)
Personally I don't see a great need for clean-up. If others think that rewrites are necessary, the points that I imagine need to be addressed are to stress that Sapir and Whorf never had a hypothesis (as is spelled out in footnote one), and that despite some linguists treating relativity as a bete noir (to paraphrase George Lakoff), no hypothesis has been "disproven" and there is no general consensus on the nature of linguistic relativity. (This is explained throughout the page, but it keeps coming up on this talk page). Cnilep (talk) 13:57, 13 April 2010 (UTC)
The first two paragraphs form an adequate lead. The last three paragraphs of the current lead would be better merged into the top section of "History". Between the first two and the last three, there is no middle. ;-) __ Just plain Bill (talk) 14:49, 13 April 2010 (UTC)
Rather than a cleanup, this article needs a rethink to make it cohere with other articles. There are quite a few threads here, but the overall pattern is language and thought. I propose we need to
(i) split off and summarize here (a) Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and (b) fictional languages,
(ii) review (a) this article and (b) linguistic determinism and summarize them to language and thought,
(iii) write a history section for language and thought (starting with the Sophists and Plato's Cratylus) and
(iv) summarize language and thought to philosophy of language (making use of what is already there).
I would like to help with the history section (basing it on Arika Okrent's book, but that might take a while, because I haven't even started reading the book yet. Hpvpp (talk) 03:49, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
I don't think that is the best book to work from - why not use on of the multitude of books written by linguists researching linguistic relativity? And why do you keep talking about "sapir-whorf hypothesis" as if it exists? This is about the concept of linguistic relativity which has been wrongly characterised as the "sapir-whorf" hypothesis mainly by the detractors of the hypothesis of linguistic relativity. Also I don't think coherence between articles in itself is an objective - what I am interesting in knowing is if anyone think this article should be written differently and in which way so that we can get down to business and do it. ·Maunus·ƛ· 05:04, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for your suggestions, Hpvpp. I can tell that you really care about this issue. But honestly I think it's a terrible suggestion. Structuring discussion of linguistic relativity around the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis on one hand and fictional languages on the other (with or without splitting) would be like structuring discussion of Special relativity around electrodyanmics on one hand and fictional space ships on the other. Yes, notions of linguistic relativity have been important in some sectors of speculative fiction, just as notions of faster-that-light travel have been in others. That does not mean that fiction plays a comparably important role in the philosophy of language nor in physics. As Maunus says, this article is, and ought to be, about the linguistic and philosophical treatment of various notions of linguistic relativity, not about their uptake in fiction, among creators of constructed languages, or in other creative applications.
A history of scholarship on language and thought may or may not be useful. I wonder (a) if it would serve as the sort of basic encyclopedic need of this project, or might it be better suited to some sister project such as Wikiversity or Wikibooks; and (b) whether such a history would be possible without original research via synthesis. In any case, it would be neither a replacement for this article nor a subsection of it, but a broader category that includes it. Cnilep (talk) 14:27, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
Indeed, I do care about the topic and I think it is one of the most important ones in linguistics. I also think that the article's lead is too long and that it is messy in part. (As has been commented on before.) Partly this would seem to be the result of different editors putting in different bits of information, but there also errors in grammar and style. However, before setting out to fix all that I really do believe that the article needs to be re-thought. Specifically, there needs to be a much clearer statement of what the article is about, briefly in the lead and more elaborately in a Definition-section. There the reader should be able to find a formulation of the current consensus of what specifically the relation between thought and language is supposed to be, together with alternative formulations. Then a History-section, a Current research-section and a Criticism-section, followed by Notes, etc. (Thus, I am not at all suggesting to structure the discussion of linguistic relativity around the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and the fictional languages.)
To be sure, there is no such thing as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but the reason I proposed to split off and summarize it anyway is simply because (i) there are many people out there who still use the term, (ii) a great deal of research has nominally been done in response to it and (iii) a considerable portion of the article itself reads as a ‘rise and fall’ of the hypothesis. The virtue of splitting that off is, firstly, that it acknowledges that the confusion has been (and still is) rather widespread and, secondly, that it allows the article to become more concise. (Which should automatically result in a shorter lead and less mess.)
The fictional languages are interesting in themselves, but not germane to this article.
Concerning the coherence of articles, I submit that it is of great importance to Wikipedia. Without it, we run the risk of ending up with a collection of stained-glass windows rather than a vista of integrated knowledge. Hpvpp (talk) 06:36, 19 April 2010 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────I agree with most of what you say. I wrote much of the article body in response to earlier versions which took the anti-relativist viewpoint as expresed by Pinker as fact and didn't treat any of the advances made in studies of Linguistic relativity made since 1980. That is why I focused on the history of the development of the concept. I may have lost sight of the "definition" part but actually I think it is near impossible to describe what the current consensus is because realy there isn't any. The Universalists like Pinker think the hypothesis is dead and buried with only a few weirdos trying deperately to keep it alive. Those few weirdos however include many of the top figures of cognitive and functional linguistics - basically all those who are interested in cognitive and social aspects of language use - like Stephen Levinson, William Hanks, Melissa Bowerman, Sydney Lamb - and according to those weirdos linguistic relativity, defined as influence from linguistic structures and habitual language use on cognitive patterns is a fact that needs to be studied. I don't think we will win by separating "Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis" from "Linguistic relativity" in my opinion it is the same thing called two different things by the two different camps - S-W hypothesis is simply a pejorative way to say "hypothesis of linguistic relativity". I agree that constructed languages are given an immense amount of undue weight - they should be split off to Constructed languages and linguistic relativity. I do think it is a very good idea to state clearly what is the historic use of "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" (who used it, when and why) and why "Linguistic relativity" is a better name for it - I don't think we need to split the topics to do this though. As for the errors of style and grammar that I am sure I have made many of, I strongly encourage you to correct them all.·Maunus·ƛ· 09:53, 24 April 2010 (UTC)

Let's do this in small steps. My thinking is that the more we can split off the easier it will be come to craft a reasonable definition. Have a look at the template I created as an improved version for the Linguistic relativity and the color naming debate at User:Hpvpp/Sandbox with a test page at User:Hpvpp/Sandbox/testcases. The idea is that anyone can edit the summary wherever they find it, but they are then first directed to the template which gives them all the relevant information for using the template and appropriate warnings to be careful in editing and take into account the various contexts within which the template is used. (When implemented, the spurious references to my sandbox won't be there, of course.)
Hpvpp (talk) 07:44, 26 April 2010 (UTC)
Request for Comment
I have done some research and I have decided that the summary issue is larger than I can handle. Please see my RfC at Wikipedia_talk:Lead_section#Proposal_for_a_new_template_and_/Sum_summary_pages.
Hpvpp (talk) 08:09, 3 May 2010 (UTC)
The RfC being rejected, I have withdrawn the proposal so that I can now help with improving the article. I fixed some easy bits, but any major work needs to be discussed first.
Hpvpp (talk) 02:01, 19 May 2010 (UTC)
I have split off the "Fictional presence" section to Experimental languages. It was undone by User:Orangemike because he found the material in the new page to be "Unsourced; full of original research; fork from linguistic relativity". I have reverted the edit, because
  • All relevant content was found here and on other pages so therefore neither unsourced nor original research apply
  • the page is not a content fork because (i) it expands on linguistic relativity and (ii) that page is too big already
  • the page is not a POV fork
What next in cleaning up?
Hpvpp (talk) 01:57, 28 May 2010 (UTC)
I agree with splitting off that content.·Maunus·ƛ· 05:55, 28 May 2010 (UTC)
I agree that the split is warranted on the basis of page size and relevance, and does not comprise a POV fork. The page Experimental languages will still need to comply with Wikipedia policies on original research, verifiability, reliable sources, etc. but those facts do not affect the appropriateness of the split. Cnilep (talk) 13:17, 28 May 2010 (UTC)

naive or nativistic?

In "History/Presenst status" there is this fragment "Current studies of linguistic relativity are neither marked by the naivistic approach to exotic linguistic structures" Should this be "naive" or "nativistic"?

Hpvpp (talk) 02:05, 19 May 2010 (UTC)

naive.·Maunus·ƛ· 04:38, 19 May 2010 (UTC)
done (but why didn't you?) Hpvpp (talk) 01:54, 28 May 2010 (UTC)
I must have had something else to do.·Maunus·ƛ· 05:56, 28 May 2010 (UTC)

Was Hebrew (Aramaic ) or English the 1 tongue or one language from ....?

My question is a thought provoking one. How can we have so many languages in the world? I noticed that many languages are derived from Latin which has its roots from Greek. Its interesting to know that these languages share commonality in some ways such as Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese. If these languages have a commonality, then it is not impossible to assume that many years ago before literature - there was 1 tongue or one language. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 1meBERMUDA (talkcontribs) 17:34, 13 June 2010 (UTC)

My question is a thought provoking one. How can we have so many languages in the world? I noticed that many languages are derived from Latin which has its roots from Greek. Its interesting to know that these languages share commonality in some ways such as Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese. If these languages have a commonality, then it is not impossible to assume that many years ago before literature. Was Hebrew (Aramaic ) or English the 1 tongue or one language from the beginning? —Preceding unsigned comment added by 1meBERMUDA (talkcontribs) 17:36, 13 June 2010 (UTC)

Note that this page is for for discussing improvements to the Linguistic relativity article, not for discussion of general linguistic questions. Cnilep (talk) 19:08, 13 June 2010 (UTC)


The article should say something about recent research into grammatical gender, showing that depending on the gender used in their mother tongue speakers will associate nouns with masculine or feminine characteristics; e.g. a bridge as 'strong' vs 'elegant'. Ben Finn (talk) 16:03, 17 September 2010 (UTC)

Citation against Alfred Bloom

The following rebuttal to Alfred Bloom's hypothesis could be mentioned after it:

Science and civilisation in China by Joseph Needham, Christoph Harbsmeier, chapter Language and Logic, page 116, however, gives examples of counterfactuals in Chinese from the text Lun Heng by Wang Chhung circa C.E. 83 and the text Chuang Tzu and cites Harbsmeier 1981 for over 50 more examples.

See also Reasoning countetfactually in Chinese: Are there any obstacles? by LISA GARBERN LIU, which discusses experimental evidence that modern Chinese speakers have no difficulty with counterfactuals.

Bayle Shanks (talk) 08:10, 9 October 2010 (UTC)

Disagree with losing the Sapir-Whorf redirect

Sure, the term "Sapir-Whorf" hypothesis is a misnomer, but all the same known to a great many people and should therefore have its own page with reasons why it's a misnomer as well as a history of the use of the term. And of course a brief section explaining what it is all about and referring the reader to this article. I have been wanting to create such a page for a long time, but I haven't had the time to do it. Still, I intend to do so eventually (if no one else does it before then). Hpvpp (talk) 08:44, 24 December 2010 (UTC)

We haven't lost any redirects in the article namespace. I just moved the article page to the MediaWiki talk namespace in order to import an old edit from the Nostalgia Wikipedia, an old copy of the Wikipedia database. When I moved it back to the original title, I did it without the redirect because there is no need for random redirects from the MediaWiki talk namespace. Graham87 08:54, 24 December 2010 (UTC)
Oh. Not that I understand what happened, but okay then. (One of these days I will learn more about how this all works.) Hpvpp (talk) 09:17, 24 December 2010 (UTC)